Over the years, we've seen the blue half of Manchester dominate the English Premier League. They've won titles after titles and that too by playing some breath taking football. But whenever they played in Europe you could sense something was missing. A cutting edge perhaps. It was always evident against the more elite opposition that the Citizens needed something more.
It all starts with small steps. Sheikh Mansoor and his directors decided to bring in Aitor "Txiki" Begiristain as Technical Director. It was by no means an easy move. But it was the right one. The next step would be to bring in Pep Guardiola which finally happened in the 2016-17 season.
Pep's first season was tough. The team was in transition and many players needed a new challenge. The coach had to take action. He needed to bring in new blood. Players that could understand his philosophy. Pep has always been an advocate of modern attacking football and he's based his principles on the teachings of his mentors Johan Cruyff and Marcelo Bielsa.
With his philosophy firmly established, the Citizens won two league titles in a row. They broke the most wins and most goals record. Last season they won everything English football could possibly offer. But the Champions League continued to elude them. Last season's exit at the hands of Pochettino's Spurs side on away goals was particularly painful.
This season has been more of a test. Long term Injuries to key players have taken away the effectiveness and fluidity of their system. But that was before the break. Post Covid...they're back with a bang. And if anyone had any doubts, the manner of their recent win against this season's Premier League champions Liverpool gave us a clear show of intent from Pep Guardiola. The obituaries written on City's cycle of dominance may have been a tad too presumptuous.
Pep Guardiola is Bielsa's most decorated disciple. His football philosophy is borrows heavily from the principles laid by his mentor. At every club, Pep has played a tactic that more or less surprised the opposition. At Barcelona he played the false #9, at Bayern Munchen he introduced Inverted wing backs, at both the clubs he introduced the sweeper keeper and the third man free sweeper for defense (a very typical Bielsa tactic).
But the most important tactic that has defined his tenure at all his clubs is the pressing. Manchester City press from the front. It's called by many as the first press. Their front men press the opposition defense in a man to man attack to "steal the ball". Generally it leads to a quick transition, leading to the creation of chances.
The formation is fluid but tends to begin with a 4-3-3 default position. And then in typical Pep fashion, it changes. Switching to a 3-4-3. The emergence of De Bruyne has become key. His technique, passing and vision have become crucial for the team but that's not to say they don't have others that play a pivotal role. Almost all of their goals have been through the inverted movements of outside forwards (Sterling, Mahrez, Bernardo, even Jesus) in and around the penalty area setting up the target man (usually Aguero or Jesus) for a tap in.
Further afield, Gundogan has played well on the continent, Laporte has returned from injury in great shape and David Silva is a legend who still has it all to prove on the european stage. As Zidane and Real Madrid would witness, the Citizens have got the bit between their teeth.
Olympique Lyonnais have been consistent challengers to their more rich rivals PSG. They've maintened their challenge through an established youth academy that has produced some great talents over the years. Not withstanding that they've also invested in talent abroad. Indeed, Memphis Depay is a household name now and rightly so with some excellent performances for the club.
Although the ownership and hierarchy at the French club has traditionally been renowned for patience and confidence with their charges on the field, there have been rumblings. Bruno Genesio's progress was halted due to differences with President Jean Michel Aulas and recent player turned manager Sylvinho was shown the door after some bad performances.
Experienced coach Rudi Garcia has since taken charge and the club seems to show signs of improvement. With individuals titles including French coach and Ligue 1 coach of the year, Rudi Garcia comes with a career that's colorful in the very least.
His recent tenure at rivals Marseille ended in the club reaching the Europa league final in 2017-18 season. His Lille side won Ligue 1 and Coupe De France in 2010-11 season. But his tenure at Roma was most interesting. His tactical noux and fcoucs on youth development became apparent. Roma's challenge to Juventus ultimately came short but he did take them to two consecutive second pace finishes and consequent Champions league qualifications.
At Lyon, Rudi Garcia has introduced the 3-5-2 system. Essentially switching to a 3-5-1-1 with Depay playing wide outside to support the midfield, it is a system that is made to occupy specific zones in the opposition area thereby creating overloads. The team is filled with technically gifted players such as Mousa Dembele, K. Toko Ekambi and many more.
They have good flank cover on both sides with defensive wing back L. Dubois on the right while the left side of attack is usually covered by a more technically attack minded player such as Auoar and Cornet. But their most important player in this set up is the anchorman Guimaraes. The player sets the tone for the team and is vital for Rudi Garcia. In short, this is a very well oiled machine.
Manchester City: E. Moraes, E. Laporte, Zinchenko, Fernandinho, Gundogan, K. De Bruyne, B. Silva, R. Sterling, G. Jesus, R. Mahrez
Olympique Lyonnais: A. Lopes, Marcelo, Marcal, J. Denayar, B. Guimaraes, H. Auoar, M. Cornet, M. Caqueret, M. Dembele, K. Toko Ekambi, M. Depay.
With both coaches renowned for their attacking intent, it is expected that both teams will go for goals and dominance. We can expect both coaches to stick to their initial systems for long durations.
Pep Guardiola will begin with a 4-3-3 initially, his team front line will press the Lyon defense front the get go. Rudi Garcia on the other hand will try to create overloads in the middle of the park which will mean pressurizing Rodri to disrupt the Citizens passing pattern. Pep in response might expand his teams movement more out on the flanks to pressure Rudi Garcia's wing players.
For the Citizens, much will depend on the players selected for the starting line up by Pep. If there's one part of the team that can be exploited by Rudi Garcia's men IT is the link up between Fernandinho and Rodri (if he starts). Owing to the positional sensitivity in their respective zones putting them under pressure could yield dividends for Lyon.
But Pep can change the tactical set up during any match if need be. And he'll most likely surprise the opposition with a key change. Bernardo Silva coulD be key (if he starts of course) and De Bruyne will be the man to watch, as Lyon are not as sophisticated defensively as Real Madrid in the midfield area. Our prediction is a 4-2 win for the Citizens.